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Katawa Shoujo (かたわ少女 or “crippled girls”), is a combination visual novel and dating sim independently released by a group that formed out of 4chan named Four Leaf Studios. The game takes place at Yamaku Academy, a fictional school for children with disabilities, with each of the five possible love interests having a disability of some kind.
Precursor – Scarred
Previous to Katawa Shoujo, 4chan users came together to publish the visual novel Scarred, released in 2007. This game was based on a story told by a poster dubbed Nurse-kun, an anonymous poster who claimed to be a registered nurse taking care of a seven-year-old orphan who lost both of her legs, her right arm, and right eye in a car crash. He began posting in December 2006 making fun of the girl, but over the course of the next six months, he built a relationship with his patient. Users gave them the honorific names Nurse-kun and Ampu-tan, posting fan art of the two. He ceased posting until September 2008 when he stated he had a new job and the young girl was living with him.
The idea for the game stemmed from a bonus page of a hentai doujinshi based on the manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, titled Schuppen Harnische. The doujinshi was released in 2000 by a member of the Zettai Shoujo circle named RAITA. One of these pages included designs and preliminary ideas for a visual novel set in a disabled school.
In January 2007, the /a/ (anime) board on 4chan stickied a thread about this art to its front page. Interest gradually grew, and after three months of discussion, a group of 21 developers from various Internet communities came together to make this game a reality.
Four Leaf Studios
Four Leaf Studios was a volunteer group formed in 2007 of twenty-one developers from around the world. Their sole purpose was the creation and release of Katawa Shoujo, intending it to be free to download. Following the full game’s release, Four Leaf Studios announced it had no plans for its members to collaborate on any new projects.
“With that, the story of Four Leaf Studios is finished. As a single entity, we will not be producing another game. But even though our story has ended, you will now be able to experience a new story; the story that Four Leaf Studios existed to create.”
On April 29th, 2009, Four Leaf Studios released Act 1 of the game as a preview, introducing the main characters and providing both good and bad endings for each of the paths. This version lacked any sexual content. The preview has since been translated into seven other languages: French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and both simplified and traditional Chinese. After the initial release of Act 1, Four Leaf Studios accepted one new member, Mike Inel, who handled all of the animations for each character along with the reworking of the opening sequence and all of the act title cards.
On January 4th, 2012, five years after the project’s initial conception on the 4chan board, the full length game was finally released for download.
After the demo was released, several Japanese culture sites including Kotaku and Japanator reviewed it, asking questions about the motivations behind the game and ultimately concluding that the game handled the girls’ disabilities tastefully, calling the game “surprisingly compassionate.”
After the game’s proper release in 2012, an in-depth piece was published on Kotaku, featuring an interview with the game’s lead writer, Aura. In the interview, Aura stated the game “was designed to make a genuine and honest story, rather than fuel for fetishes.” Reviews of the game appeared on the Escapist, ScrewAttack, and the Daily Dot and a TVTropes entry was also created for it. There was some controversy, however, after several users on the Japanese text board 2channel pointed out that the word Katawa (かたわ) is a slur in Japan for “cripple” and were offended by the game’s title.
The game is a visual novel, similar to the Ace Attorney series, with two-dimensional characters that appear over static backgrounds. The game progresses through text at the bottom and intermittent choices that allow the user to determine how the storyline will end.
- Lilly: Lilly is a blind girl who enjoys drinking tea and hanging out with her best friend, Hanako. She is the representative for class 3-2.
- Emi: Both of Emi’s legs were amputated below the knee after an accident. She has made the best out of the situation by joining the school’s track team.
- Hanako: When she was young, Hanako was left scarred after a fire that burned her house down and killed her father. She is a recluse and does not like being around others, with the exception of her best friend, Lilly.
- Rin: Due to a birth defect, Rin is missing both of her arms. She uses her feet and her mouth to complete tasks and wears a boy’s uniform to allow her greater use of her legs. She is passionate about philosophy and painting.
- Shizune: Shizune is deaf and mute, but is a leader and the class representative for 3-3, the one Hisao is in. She likes to take charge of situations and is very competitive. She is rarely seen without her interpreter and best friend, Misha.
Katawa Seiyū is a fan project with the aim of producing a voice-acted version of the Katawa Shoujo as an interactive YouTube game. The first video of their “Meet the Cast” series was released on January 3rd, 2013, in order to coincide with the game’s first anniversary.
Heart Attack / HHNNNGGG!
In the opening scene of the game, Hisao is meeting with his original love interest, Iwanako, in the woods. When she asks him to go out with her, he has a heart attack, setting the stage for him to attend Yamaku and set the game in progress. The onomatopoeia for the sound of a heart attack, HHNNNGGG has been frequently used in fan comics to illustrate Hisao’s response to situations that would potentially be too cute for him to handle, in a similar fashion to that scene. It was popularized by a series of 4komas by the artist Pimmy.
The use of HHNNNGGG was so popular in the comments on Katawa Shoujo’s official image board, The Mishimmie, that the staff informed users that anyone commenting with “a certain onomatopoeia” would have their IP banned. Users then proceeded to comment on moe-themed images with the phrase “A CERTAIN ONOMATOPOEIA” instead.
The catchphrase of Shizune’s interpreter Misha, “Wahaha~!” is used when she is being particularly enthusiastic. This laugh is often associated with her and featured in various fan works, frequently being combined with the smile she shows during conversations in-game.
Kotaku Australia – Unexpected Sincerity: Disabilities, Girls and Katawa Shoujo
The Escapist – Disabled Girl Dating Sim Katawa Shoujo Finally Available